Below, a compare-contrast look at what each city has to offer if chosen:
Tell me about the bids.
Both countries formally submitted their detailed bids in January, a month after the IOC unanimously approved a road map for the long-term future of the Olympics. Among the main goals of the agenda is keeping costs down in the wake of Sochi 2014, whose price tag swelled to about $51 billion and scared away prospective future hosts.
Beijing has six existing venues and plans for three new ones, as well as three Olympic villages. It proposed hosting the Games from Feb. 4-20, 2022, working with organizing committee and infrastructure budgets of just over $1.5 billion each.
Almaty's bid noted three Olympic villages and 11 venues that are under construction or were built in either the Soviet era or for its 2011 hosting of the Asian Winter Games. The bid emphasized a compact layout, with all Olympic facilities within an about 20-mile radius of Almaty. The budget of its organizing committee is more than $1.7 billion, and its infrastructure budget, which includes non-Olympic projects, is $4.5 billion. No date range was proposed.
Who’s got real snow?
Handing the 2014 Winter Olympics to Sochi, the subtropical Russian resort on the edge of the Black Sea, proved that a natural winter wasn’t quite necessary. But this is a bright spot for Almaty, the clear underdog, which is surrounded by the snow-topped Tian Shan mountains.
That's in stark contrast with Beijing, where athletes would have to travel to venues in Yanqing, more than 40 miles away, or take a planned high-speed rail line to venues about 110 miles away in Zhangjiakou. Lack of snow, even in the mountains, has risen as a main concern; a solution could mean a heavy reliance on artificial snow.
Weather appears as a common theme in both bids, too. While Beijing went with "Joyful Rendezvous upon Pure Ice and Snow," Almaty opted for simplicity with "Keeping it Real."
Which city has more experience?
This sounds like a given. Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, meaning its baseline in supporting masses of newcomers for weeks (transportation, security, overall experience) is well above Almaty’s. If Beijing is awarded the 2022 bid, it will mark the first time that one city has hosted the Summer and Winter Olympics.
But don’t discount Almaty so quickly. Kazakhstan has never hosted an Olympics — it put in a bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics but didn’t make the list of finalists. Still, it has hosted smaller competitions in recent years that hold some weight. In 2017, Almaty will host the Winter Universiade, a global competition for student-athletes in cold-weather sports such as skiing, skating and snowboarding.
One thing that's certain? It's Asia that's winning out. 2022 will mark the third consecutive Olympics held on the continent, after PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018 and Tokyo in 2020.
What about human rights?
Both China and Kazakhstan have been slammed by watchdogs in recent years. As China’s bid has pushed forward, ethnic groups have called for the IOC to reject it. Beijing cracked down on protests ahead of the 2008 Olympics.
An open letter by representatives for the Han Chinese, southern Mongolians, Muslim-minority Uighurs and Tibetans told the organization that their people “have suffered as a result of the Chinese government’s contempt for human rights.”
Kazakhstan’s woes have largely been rooted in state clampdowns on media, activism and criticism, as well as violence and discrimination against its LGBT community. A 31-page report recently released by Human Rights Watch, which detailed how LGBT people live in “the climate of fear,” called on the government to work toward remedying the situation.
No matter which country gets the honor, Minky Worden, the organization’s global initiatives director, said recently, “The IOC will face an extreme test of its new commitment to improve human rights protections.”
Who needs it more?
Beijing has, in part, framed the 2022 Winter Olympics as a way of solidifying the cold-weather sports market in China. In a December letter to the IOC, Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote that hosting the Games would “ignite the passion of the 1.3 billion Chinese People for Olympic winter sports.” In a nod to Beijing's notorious air quality, officials have pledged improvements.
The stakes are bigger for Almaty, which, if chosen, would be vaulted onto the international stage as never before. Organizers say it would give a much-needed boost to Almaty’s infrastructure and Kazakhstan’s global image: a strongman-run nation that was poorly presented in (and offended by) the 2006 mockumentary "Borat."
But critics say hosting the Games would be a boon only for those in power, who hope to show that Kazakhstan can hang in the big leagues. It would breed more corruption, they say, in a political environment considered rife with it.
Supporters and opponents in both countries will be watching closely on Friday. That will almost certainly bode well for Brazil, which probably hopes that the decision will divert attention away from an Associated Press investigation that found contaminated and potentially hazardous water at some of Rio de Janeiro's competition sites ahead of next summer's Olympics.